MCPA demands Health Ministry certify maize aflatoxin free

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The Medical and Civil Rights Professional Association of Doctors (MCPA) has demanded that Health Ministry to give the public a certification negating allegations that corn imported to produce Thriposha had not contained the harmful agricultural fungi ‘Aflatoxin’.

MCPA President Chamal Sanjeewa yesterday (23) said that maize for Thriposha production was imported from Pakistan. “Although, the reports on the investigations had not been released we later got to hear that there had been suspicions that the corn imported to Sri Lanka may have contained Aflatoxin,” he alleged.

Either due to Aflatoxin contamination or some other reason the Thriposha factory has been closed for the past six months,
Dr. Sanjeewa said, adding it had dealt a severe blow to urban and rural communities.

Increasing malnourishment amongst pregnant and breast-feeding mothers and children between six months and five years of age had been somewhat controlled by the additional instant food supplement, which had been given to them through the Health Ministry’s initiative to offer a free nutrition supplement, especially to pregnant and breast feeding mothers as well as infants and toddlers.

He said, “Food shortage and amplifying cost of food has potential for the increase in the level of malnutrition from young children to adults. Data received during the past six months from regional areas, from community physicians and health employees, show that there was an increase in levels of malnutrition amongst children, pregnant mothers and the adults

“We receive reports that some families are forced to survive on breadfruit and jak for their meals,” he lamented, noting that although it may appear on the surface that consuming vegetables grown in villages would give adequate nourishment, the truth was that it did not contain the balanced diet. He said that the economic crisis has affected rural and urban areas. The inability to cultivate, the fertiliser issue and food shortages has resulted in the worsening conditions of the rural poor while those in estate and urban housing complexes have also been feeling the adverse effects of the crisis.

Someone may argue that there were possibilities of cultivating. But the truth is people living in flats, those living in, three perches of land and at times even those living in village areas don’t have the space to cultivate. Added to this, are the current crises of fuel and fertiliser shortages, he said. 

Dr. Sanjeewa urged the Government, headed by the Prime Minister to formulate an instant mechanism to overcome a food crisis especially in the rural areas of the country. Ensure that pregnant mothers don’t deliver stillborn or mentally retarded babies, while even children would be low-weight and malnourished.
Dr. Sanjeewa called for a Task Force to be set up or priority list formulated to deal with the issues facing community health services in rural, urban and estate sectors at this juncture.

“It is imperative that priority be given to reopening the Thriposha factory.  Measures should be taken to carry out a feasibility study and provide infrastructural facilities to reinitiate Thriposha production. “We should not spend foreign aid loans or foreign aid unnecessarily without a priority list or the country would fall victim to more debt.

Meanwhile Chief of the Public Health Union Sri Lanka (PHIUSL), Upul Rohana noted that over 40% of mothers from low income families in rural and urban areas who were depended largely on the Thriposha they received. The free supplement would have helped these groups largely with the increasing difficulty in purchasing food containing protein. The only cost effective food at present is those which contain carbohydrates.

Rohana said that however that with the Aflatoxin issue that came up over six months ago Customs had to take measures to re-export seven containers of maize. He said that Food and Drug Inspectors (FDI) at the Customs had obtained samples of the maize imported from Pakistan for Thriposha production to test.

Prior to this several other containers of maize had been released by the customs to the Thriposha Factory in Ja-ela, Kapuwatta. So when the test reports were received it showed that the maize was Aflatoxin contaminated. But by this time the company had already produced Thriposha from those stocks that had been released to it. He noted that immediate measures had been taken to withdraw the Thriposha which had been released to rural MoH offices.

He noted that although the reports had not been released by the Customs which had retained them for internal decision making, it had contributed towards the closure of the Thriposha Company.

The country is now stumped with the inability to import maize from another country due to the forex crisis, he lamented.

By Dilanthi Jayamanne